Link between histamine, inflammation and lymphoedema

In 2011, when I was a full-time massage therapist, I performed 300 manual lymphatic drainage massage sessions and have come across some cases that triggered questions about inflammatory conditions.

When you see clients with similar patterns you start asking yourself questions as a therapist. Histamine seems to be the common denominator and it is released when there is an allergic reaction.

A research paper from 1985 looked at the link between histamine and oedema.

Rabbits were injected histamine and they developed oedema through the action of prostaglandins because they are vasodilators. In the study when histamine was injected with prostaglandin or calcitonin there was a significant increase of oedema, higher than just injecting histamine. The oedema caused protein leakage from lymphatic vessels because the injections increased the permeability.

Other studies from the 70s and 80s showed that vasodilation and oedema could be reduced by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory compounds which are responsible for lowering prostaglandin levels. (Williams & Peck, 1977; Williams & Jose, 1981).

In 2005 it was argued that lymphoedema could be caused by an excess of plasma proteins in the body which in turn could trigger chronic inflammation and lymphoedema. The researchers concluded that lymphoedema is a form of chronic inflammation. (J. R Casley-Smith, R. M. Gaffney, Article first published online: 16 JUN 2005, DOI: 10.1002/path.1711330307, The Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland)

Research into natural remedies for oedema and other inflammatory conditions isn’t providing enough concluding evidence and at times results are contradictory.

Coumarin has been tested for use in inflammatory conditions.

Coumarin was injected in lab rats to reduce inflammation as it breaks down proteins using macrophages. Found in tonka bean, lavender, liquorice, berries and cinnamom, coumarin is a blood thinner. It lowers capillary permeability but can be toxic if taken for long periods of time. It is also contraindicated during pregnancy and hemorrhages or in combination with other drugs. (Sources: Phytochemicals  and Medical Journal, Elsevier)

Controversially, liquorice, which contains courmarin, may cause water retention. In a study with fifteen people who consumed 3.5 grams of liquorice for 2 months, it was found that their levels of the hormone aldosterone was lower/inhibited and even reduced their body fat, but they were showing more water retention. In another study aldosterone was increased when taking 20 grams of liquorice a day, thus causing heart problems, headaches and high blood pressure. (Sources: UMM , Pharmacology Week and Natural Medicines Newsletter, Volume 1, Issue 41, 10/29/2009).


Unfortunately it is impossible right now to draw significant conclusions from the studies available on oedema and potential remedies for it. It is worth noting that reducing the body’s overall inflammatory condition can lessen an overactive auto-immune response and therefore reduce the histamine levels in the body. Manual lymphatic drainage, by working mechanically on the lymphatic system including the lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes, may contribute to a reduction in swelling and a lowering of histamine levels in the body.